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Eddie Howe hails Man City match-winner Kevin De Bruyne as Newcastle United coach bemoans lack of options

NEWCASTLE: There are levels to this game — and sometimes you just have to sit back and admire world class when you see it.

When Eddie Howe turned to his bench, he saw youngsters and Championship-level campaigners. Just a few meters away, Pep Guardiola had arguably the best creative midfielder on the planet in reserve, Kevin De Bruyne.

And it was the silky Belgian, back to supercharge Manchester City’s Premier League title charge after injury, who proved the match-winner at St. James’ Park.

While Newcastle United more than held their own for 70 minutes, De Bruyne’s introduction, then injection of final third quality and composure, where City had lacked it to that point, saw this encounter flipped on its head.

Bernardo Silva’s back flick opened the scoring early doors before the Magpies hit back with two flashes of quality of their own. And their equalizer will go down as one of the best you will see in the Premier League this season. The tenacity of Fabian Schar saw him win the ball, then show the composure to tuck into Bruno Guimaraes, whose first-time flick over the top to Alexander Isak saw the Swede net for the Magpies.

One soon become two when a similar turnover, this time from Isak pressure, found Dan Burn, who set Anthony Gordon away and a similar finish of equal quality followed.

As the game wore on, such has been the tale of the Magpies’ season, when Newcastle tired, due to 11 absentees on the day, they had little to turn to in reserve. Cue a De Bruyne masterclass. His equalizer made it a quartet of world-class finishes, finding space in the gap between Newcastle’s defense and midfield, he passed into the side netting with a nonchalance few can get close to. Then, as the game ticked into added time, another sub, Oscar Bobb, popped up with a well-taken winner.

“It was a difficult second half. We were a real threat and it was end-to-end. The second half was more difficult,” Newcastle head coach, Eddie Howe, said.

“We had chances in the game. We had a slow start but we could have scored more. Their quality told in the end. De Bruyne is obviously a world-class player. We just have to continue in the same form as really. There’s not a lot wrong with our performances. You can see we are a top team. The group is in a good place, I don’t see any negativity. I see hurt because we aren’t winning and that’s what we’re here to do.”

On De Bruyne, Howe added: “You just hope he’s rusty and not up to full speed yet, but then he comes on and delivers that and you think, ‘Well, there’s no rustiness there’. He was straight in. You know his qualities, and you just hope you can minimize the space for it and take away the opportunities for him to hurt you with his range. He crosses the ball so well, although for the majority of the time he was on, we dealt with those situations really well. But, of course, for his goal, we didn’t defend well enough, and then for the goal at the end, that was hugely frustrating. With just three minutes to see out, you thought we were almost there.”

Despite a much-improved showing from their December dips against the likes of Luton, Everton and Nottingham Forest, the Magpies still walked away with nothing to show for their efforts. And that is now four losses on the bounce in the top flight, and six defeats in their last seven since beating Manchester United at the start of December. In four of their last eight games in all competitions, they have led and lost.

Howe said: “I think what I’d say on our situation is that we love the players we have, it’s just unfortunately for us, all our attacking players are not available. There are a lot of attacking players missing and, whenever you get that, you’re in a difficult situation. If the injuries had been spread out a bit more evenly, it wouldn’t be so defining for us. I’m in a difficult position where I’m thinking, do I bring a defender on, which can potentially be viewed as a negative substitution? It’s generally a negative move when you take off an attacking player, and I didn’t really want to do that.

“I was hoping that Miggy (Almiron), Anthony and Alex could still be a threat in the match, even though they’d given a lot in that first half. I wanted to keep them on the pitch because of what they delivered for the majority of the game. I think if we draw the game and see the last three minutes out, then it’s probably not talked about as much. But, unfortunately, it’s cost us.”

Guardiola was in a much brighter mood after the game, understandably so, although he joked about being “grumpy” with match-winner De Bruyne.

“That was really good; sometimes it is better winning that way for the team, for everything. Incredible team the way we played with a huge personality. They showed me they want to be there, to fight until the end, that they want to retain the title,” he said.

“I am a little bit upset and grumpy with him (De Bruyne) because he didn’t score from the free-kick. When opponents are more tired, Kevin and Oscar provide another pace at the end.

“Oscar’s was a fantastic goal for the control. We were really impressed in pre-season, I knew from information for the second team he was special. When Kevin has the ball and we have runners, Kevin is unique in the world, but the finish by Oscar, I am so, so happy for him.”

Next up for Newcastle United is an FA Cup fourth round trip to Fulham’s Craven Cottage on Saturday, Jan. 27.

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